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Sympathy Flower Sending Etiquette

by Linnea Crowther

Sending flowers is a perfect way to express sympathy after a death. But do you know just what kind of arrangement is appropriate to send, or where you should send it? Have you ever wondered if there are times when you shouldn’t send flowers, or what might be a good alternative? Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about funeral flower etiquette.

Should I send flowers to the funeral or to the family at home?

Either one can be appropriate. If you’re sending a large arrangement, it’s a good idea to send it to the funeral home to beautify the services. This is especially common when a group is sending an arrangement — coworkers, book club friends, and so on. From a close friend, a smaller, more intimate arrangement might be appreciated at the family home, where it will remind them daily how much you care.

For reference, they’re called funeral flowers when sent to the funeral home, and sympathy flowers when sent directly to the grieving family. If you’re not sure which to choose, you can’t go wrong having an arrangement sent to the funeral home.


When should I send funeral flowers? 

You can order flowers as soon as you hear of the death, or as soon as you know what funeral home the family has chosen. You’ll work with the flower provider to ensure they arrive at the services at the right time. But you can also send flowers later, if you wish.

Grief doesn’t go away after a funeral, and friends who are grieving would certainly appreciate knowing you’re still thinking of them a few weeks or a few months after the death. You can even send flowers to mark the one-year anniversary of their loss, or later.

What size and type of arrangement is appropriate?

Large flower arrangements like casket sprays, casket wreaths, and hearts are typically most appropriate for close family members to send. If you’re not an immediate family member, you shouldn’t plan to send flowers to adorn the casket.

Extended family members might choose a large standing spray that will stand near the casket. For friends and coworkers, it’s appropriate to send a standing spray or wreath, a potted plant, or an arrangement in a basket. If a friend or coworker wishes to send an arrangement in a vase, it’s best to send it directly to the family home, as some funeral homes have restrictions on arrangements in glass containers.

Should I send a wreath, spray, basket, or bouquet?

Any one of these can be appropriate, and your choice may just come down to personal preference. If you’re sending flowers as part of a group, you may be able to pool your money to purchase a large arrangement like a wreath or standing spray. If you don’t have as much money to spend, a smaller basket or bouquet is perfect. You can take a look at the flower provider’s options within your price range and choose the one that you like best.

Can I send flowers intended to decorate the casket?

Flowers that are placed on the casket are generally chosen by immediate family. If you’re not an immediate family member, it’s best to default to another type of arrangement, like a wreath or spray that can stand near — but not atop — the casket.

What type of flowers should I send?

Lilies are probably the most common choice for funeral and sympathy flowers, but there are lots of appropriate options. Many of the most popular sympathy flowers are chosen based on their symbolic meanings. You might send flowers that convey your everlasting affection (like forget-me-nots), or that represent a young life cut short (like violets). The flower provider is likely to offer a variety of arrangements specifically intended for funerals or sympathy, which will include some of those symbolic flowers.

Is it okay to send bright and colorful flowers? 

White flowers are certainly more common at funerals than brightly colored ones, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for color in a funeral arrangement. Red roses and carnations are commonly seen, as well as pink orchids, blue forget-me-nots, purple tulips, and others. It’s typically best to use bright colors sparingly in an arrangement, rather than sending a riot of yellows and oranges that may end up feeling too cheerful for the somber occasion.

Can I send a potted plant instead of cut flowers? 

Potted plants are absolutely appropriate when you’re sending sympathy or funeral flowers. Potted peace lilies, orchids, and hydrangeas are among the plants commonly chosen for this purpose. One benefit of a potted plant is that the family can continue to enjoy it for much longer than cut flowers.

If I send flowers to the funeral home, what will happen to them after the services?

This is up to the family. They may take some or all of the flowers home with them after the services. However, it may be that so many flowers are sent that it’s difficult to bring them all home.

Flowers that the immediate family doesn’t bring home may be sent home with extended family or close friends. They might be left to adorn the grave, where a headstone may not yet be there to mark the site. They can be pressed or dried and preserved as keepsakes. Or they may be donated to nursing homes or hospitals to brighten the lives of others.

I want to send flowers to the family at home, but I don’t know their address. What do I do? 

If you know the funeral home that’s handling arrangements, you can send the flowers there and they will either display them at the services or pass them along to the family, whichever is appropriate for the situation. If you’re not sure of the funeral home, look for an obituary online, which is likely to include that information.

I was friends with the deceased, but I never met their family. Should I still send flowers?

Yes, it’s a kind gesture to send flowers even if you don’t know the family of the deceased. It’s a sign of your respect and affection for your friend, and the people who loved them will appreciate knowing about other lives they touched. You can include a short note with the flowers that explains your connection to their loved one.

I never met the deceased, but I’m close to a family member. Should I still send flowers?

Yes, even if you didn’t know the deceased at all, it’s appropriate to send flowers to a friend who has suffered a loss. The point is to show your friend you’re thinking of them, and that’s important even if you never met their loved one.

What should I write on the card? 

The card that accompanies a flower delivery is usually small, without much room for a long message. That doesn’t mean you can’t convey your sympathy — you’ll just need to keep it short. Messages like “My thoughts are with you at this difficult time” or “In my thoughts and prayers” would be a good fit for a sympathy flower card.

How should I sign the card?

You should always sign the card with your first and last name, even if you think the recipient will know for sure who you are from just your first name. There might be others sending flowers who have your same first name, or a similar name, so be specific to avoid confusion.

If I’m sending flowers as part of a group, what should we put on the card? 

Since flower cards are small, you might not have room to include all your names if many people have gotten together to send sympathy flowers. Instead, you can sign it with something that describes your group. Examples include “The Marketing Team at Acme,” “Susan’s Softball Team Friends,” “St. John’s Tuesday Night Prayer Group,” and so on.

Is there any situation for which funeral flowers aren’t appropriate?

There are a few religious faiths that offer restrictions around sympathy flowers. Flowers are generally not appropriate at all at Jewish funerals or shiva calls. Red flowers are inappropriate for Buddhist funerals, but white flowers are a good choice. Flowers are welcomed at Mormon funerals, but they should not be arranged in the shape of a cross.

Flowers may or may not be appropriate at a Muslim funeral depending on the individual family, and some more fundamentalist Christian denominations may also frown on flowers. If you’re ever unsure if flowers are a good choice for a funeral, you can always check with the funeral home.

Do I have to send flowers, or can I send another gift to express my sympathy? 

There are certainly other types of gifts you can send and gestures you can make to express your sympathy if you prefer not to send flowers. Potted plants are a longer-lasting but just as beautiful remembrance. Other popular sympathy gifts include food baskets and memorial decorative items such as wind chimes or garden plaques. You might also choose to make a donation to charity in the deceased’s honor.

If I can’t attend the funeral, should I send flowers anyway? 

Yes, you can send flowers whether or not you’ll be at the funeral. If you can’t attend because of distance or schedule conflicts, sending flowers is a perfect way to show you’re thinking of the family and regret being unable to attend.

The obituary says “In lieu of flowers,” but I still want to send flowers. Is that okay?

Some families request a charitable donation or other gesture “in lieu of flowers,” which means instead of flowers. When this is the case, and you want to honor the deceased, it’s a good idea to make the charitable donation or other gesture. However, if you also want to send flowers to the family, you could note on the card that you made a donation in their loved one’s honor.

I just found out about a death that happened weeks/months ago. Is it too late to send flowers to the family? 

No, there’s really no time that’s “too late” to send sympathy flowers. If the funeral has already happened, you can send flowers directly to the family home at any time, even quite a while after the death. If you’re not sure of the family’s address, check in with the funeral home — they may be able to pass flowers along if you send them there. The online obituary is likely to list the funeral home that handled arrangements.

Can I send flowers if there’s no funeral service?

Yes, flowers are a loving expression of sympathy for a loss, even if the family has chosen not to hold formal services. You can send them directly to the family at home, or check in with the funeral home if you’re not sure where to send them.

Can I send flowers if the deceased was cremated?

Yes, flowers are appropriate no matter what method of body disposition was chosen by the deceased or the family – burial, cremation, or other more modern options. It may be that the family is holding a memorial service after the cremation, where flowers would be appreciated to beautify the event. Even if there’s no memorial service, you can send flowers to the family at home. The funeral home can help you decide where it’s best to send flowers when the deceased was cremated.

The family is only having a graveside service. Should I send flowers to the cemetery? 

Cemeteries may not be set up to receive flowers for graveside services, so it’s best not to send them there without checking first. You can call the cemetery office to inquire if flowers can be sent there, or check in with the funeral home to find out where they can be sent. The option of sending flowers directly to the family at home is always available if you’re not sure where else to send them.

Can I bring flowers myself if I attend the funeral? 

It’s best not to arrive at the funeral with flowers in hand. The flowers sent by others will already be arranged by funeral home staff, and there might not be a good place to put yours.

Handing a bouquet of flowers to a family member isn’t a great option, either — they’ll have to carry it around for the duration of the service. If you find out about the funeral too late to send flowers in advance, you can have flowers sent directly to the family at home rather than buying a bouquet and bringing it.

Send flowers to a grieving friend

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